AN ACT TO ENACT THE VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTER RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION ACT OF 2019.
Part I titles the act.
Recodifies GS 58-78-1 through GS 58-78-20 as Part I of Article 78, GS Chapter 58. Enacts Part 2, North Carolina Firefighters Fellows Program, as follows.
Sets forth definitions for the Part. Establishes the North Carolina Firefighters Fellows Committee (Committee) charged with oversight of components of the North Carolina Firefighters Fellows Program. Provides for membership of the 10-member Committee, appointed by the North Carolina Fire and Rescue Commission, to serve two-year terms beginning July 1, 2019. Sets parameters for the Committee's officers, meetings, expenses, and vacancies.
Establishes the North Carolina Firefighters Fellows Program (Program) and charges the Committee with its administration, with the assistance of the Office of State Fire Marshal. Establishes the purpose of the Program to be to increase the number of fire service professionals by providing forgivable loans to individuals to obtain applied associate degrees in fire protection or other Committee-approved related fields of study as preparation to enter a fire service profession or provide volunteer service to their community. Sets parameters for the Fire and Rescue Commissioner to select a staff member to serve as Program administrator, and details the duties of the administrator.
Provides for the Program to award forgivable loans up to $3,125 per year for up to two years to selected individuals to be used for tuition, fees, and the cost of books. Allows the Committee to set maximum amounts for loan proceeds to be used for community college fees and course textbooks. Limits the number of forgivable loans to 100 per year and no more than 200 total number of participants per year. Requires the Committee to select recipients no later than June 1 of each year.
Details eligibility criteria for Program applicants, including being on the State roster of an eligible department at the time of application, a resident for tuition purposes, a high school graduate or senior anticipating graduation, demonstrating an intent to be employed or volunteer for an eligible department upon completing the Program. Sets forth criminal convictions which disqualify individuals from the Program, including any felony.
Sets parameters for the application process, the award and administration of forgivable loans, and recipient obligations. Requires the Committee to publish application, award, and notification deadlines and provide written notification to applicants regarding the outcome of the Committee's deliberations. Deems selection of forgivable loan recipients by the Committee final.
Sets out recipient obligations, including maintaining a 2.0 GPA and pursuing an approved field of study.
Directs the Program administrator to annually report to the Fire and Rescue Commission, with an initial report by January 1, 2021, specified information concerning the Program, including the number of forgivable loans awarded and retention rates of recipients within eligible departments disaggregated by department, county, and region.
Caps the interest rate on forgivable loans at 10%. Provides that the forgivable loan can be terminated upon the recipient's withdrawal from school, by the recipient's failure to meet the standards set by the Committee, or by the recipient's default based on conditions set by the Committee. Restricts the Committee's disbursement fund to the community college where the recipient is enrolled. Details provisions for forgiveness of the loan, extension of repayment of the loan for up to two years, and repayment of the loan with interest within 60 months from distribution. Provides for default on the loan, and authorizes the Committee to declare the entire unpaid amount, including interest, immediately due and payable. Establishes that a default precludes further participation in the Program. Provides for notification by the Committee to the recipient of default, and authorizes the Committee to allow repayment plus interest for a period up to 60 months.
Effective July 1, 2019, and applies to the award of forgivable loans beginning with the 2020-21 academic year.
Amends GS 113-276, directing the Wildlife Resource Commission (Commission) to adopt rules to provide for waiver of fees for hunting, fishing, trapping, and activity licenses issued and administered by the Commission to eligible members of the volunteer fire departments. Defines eligible member to mean any individual appearing on the certified roster of eligible firefighters submitted to the State Firefighters' Association under GS 58-86-25. Provides that eligible members during the prior fiscal year receive a waiver of license fees for any annual license issued during the following fiscal year, and eligible members of 10 consecutive years receive a waiver of license fees for any lifetime license under Article 21 (all licenses issued by the Commission). Makes conforming changes to GS 113-174.2. Effective October 1, 2019.
Enacts GS 105-575(5) to establish a property tax exclusion for 25% of the assessed value of housing, together with the necessary land, owned and used as a primary residence by an unpaid member of a volunteer fire department who attended at least 36 hours of fire department drills and meetings during the taxable year and has more than five years of volunteer fire service. Effective for taxable years beginning on or after July 1, 2019.
Amends GS 58-86-35 by increasing the amount that firefighters must pay as members of the North Carolina Firefighters' and Rescue Squad Workers' Pension Fund from $10 to $15 per month.
Amends GS 58-86-40 by increasing the amount that rescue squad workers must pay as members of the North Carolina Firefighters' and Rescue Squad Workers' Pension Fund from $10 to $15 per month.
Amends GS 58-86-45 by making the same increases to amounts paid for retroactive membership in the Fund. Makes conforming changes.
Amends GS 58-86-55 to increase the amount of the monthly payments pension, disability, and benefits when a members is killed in the line of duty for eligible firefighters and eligible rescue squad workers from $170 to $180 per month. Makes additional conforming changes.
Applies to monthly payments into the North Carolina Firefighters' and Rescue Squad Workers' Pension Fund for months of service on or after January 1, 2020.
Includes a severability clause.
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